Organized Crime / U.S.

Ashman, Charles. The CIA-Mafia Link. New York: Manor Books, 1975. 234 pages.

This book deserves credit as the first to explore the CIA's ties to the Mafia in the context of various assassinations. It was published in 1975, when the Church Committee -- the Senate's select committee to study governmental operations with respect to intelligence activities, chaired by Idaho Democrat Frank Church -- was preparing for hearings. Chapters include the Rockefeller Commission cover-up, the assassination of Sam Giancana, the CIA's Castro capers, the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the assassination of Rafael Trujillo, miscellaneous murders, and a final chapter on the backgrounds of the Church Committee members.

In 1975 Charles Ashman was a Los Angeles-based late-night talk show host on syndicated television, and had already published books with titles such as "Kissinger: The Adventures of Super-Kraut," "The Finest Judges Money Can Buy," "Martha [Mitchell]: The Mouth that Roared," and "Connally: The Adventures of Big Bad John." It might be called pulp nonfiction, as they were probably shipped out in a hurry to capture the topical interests of the masses (this book has no index). Nevertheless, they are considerably more comprehensive than what the newspapers had to offer; apparently it doesn't take much to improve on mainstream journalism. By 1988 Ashman was foreign correspondent for the Sunday Express of London.

Davis, John H. Mafia Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the Gambino Crime Family. New York: HarperCollins, 1993. 450 pages.

Organized crime in New York City has been controlled since the 1920s by five Mafia families, the largest of which was the Gambino family. Some of the key leaders were Salvatore Maranzano, Lucky Luciano, Albert Anastasia, Carlo Gambino, and Paul Castellano. In 1985, John Gotti arranged the murder of Castellano and emerged as the most powerful Mafia boss in New York. He made some money from heroin and pornography, but most came from the family's violent influence within certain labor unions: the construction industry, trucking in the garment industry, the meat industry, the Manhattan and Brooklyn waterfront, and the waste disposal industry.

Meanwhile in 1982, at the urging of Rudolph Giuliani, the third-highest official at the Justice Department, $100 million was appropriated for a new offensive against the New York mob. Giuliani moved to New York to spearhead this effort (and in 1993 was elected mayor). The FBI began using the 1970 RICO law against racketeering, which gave them wide latitude to plant bugs in the homes and offices of Mafia dons. After twice winning acquittal on lesser charges, Gotti was convicted in 1992 for numerous murders. His own words from tape recordings of bugs, and the defection of underboss Salvatore Gravano, finally made the difference. Gotti was given life without parole, and is now doing hard time at the federal prison in Marion, Illinois.

Denton, Sally and Morris, Roger. The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America, 1947-2000. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001. 479 pages.

Sally Denton and Roger Morris independently enjoyed impressive careers as investigative writers, and then they got married and wrote this history of Las Vegas. From Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel to the Kennedy family, and from Mormon bankers and the Mafia to Hank Greenspun, Howard Hughes and Paul Laxalt, the events that intersect this little piece of deranged desert are too vast for even two reporters. Too many roads connect Las Vegas to other seamy stories, and there are too few pages in one book to do them justice. Within this limitation the book is successful. It spends most of its effort on a handful of personalities that were central to Las Vegas, and doesn't try to venture too far beyond a colorful snapshot, as opposed to a smoking-gun history.

There's no Conspiracy to uncover here. Rather there's an entire chain of mini-conspiracies, supported by a corrupt culture that knows nothing else. Washington DC is similar, although it employs diplomats and spin doctors instead of blunt-talking, drug-money mobsters, and boasts patriotic memorials instead of gambling glitz. Both get a steady stream of tasteless, vapid tourists. The authors vote for Las Vegas, though, as the "first city of the twenty-first century."

Fitch, Robert. Solidarity for Sale: How Corruption Destroyed the Labor Movement and Undermined America's Promise. New York: PublicAffairs, 2006. 412 pages.

A labor union member since age 15, Robert Fitch has taught at Cornell and New York University. His basic point in this book is that the history of the labor movement in the U.S. is one of thorough-going corruption. It's so bad that a 2005 Harris Poll showed that even most union households disapproved of American unions. Corruption is the reason. It's also the one thing that no one wants to talk about.

Fitch gets very specific. He looks at the AFL-CIO, the AFSCME, and the Teamsters, with particular attention to what goes on in certain local affiliates. Even apart from the Mafia and pension-fund pilfering, it seems that the various reform movements that occasionally spring up are powerless to change anything. In his concluding chapter Fitch offers ideas on how to restore the U.S. labor movement. What's needed is real democracy and the accountability of the leadership, within the unions themselves. Compared to unions in Europe, where workers can take longer vacations, get sick, and become pregnant without penalty, the American situation is dismal. As this review is written two years later, it's also beginning to look like the middle class in America is under serious pressure while the rich get richer, at the same time that Europe is becoming economically stronger.

Friedman, Robert I. Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2000. 296 pages.

When Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson pushed through an amendment in 1972 that withheld most-favored-nation status from countries that restricted Jewish immigration, the Soviets must have been amused. Brezhnev's KGB opened the gulags and sent thousands of criminals to the U.S. and Israel. After the collapse of the Soviet Union it got worse; in 1993 a Russian immigration official estimated that five million criminals would end up in the West. Now there are thirty Russian syndicates in seventeen U.S. cities, not to mention the rest of the world. They launder drug money, counterfeit $100 bills, engage in stock market and Medicare scams, sell helicopters to the Colombian cartel, and penetrate the National Hockey League. By controlling more than 80 percent of Russia's banks, much aid money has been siphoned off.

In 1992, the FBI was still mopping up the Italian mafia, and only beginning to realize that they had been ignoring a bigger problem. For one thing, Russian mobsters aren't as well-behaved as Italians; they will even go after journalists and cops. Author Robert Friedman should know -- the biggest Russian mob put out a $100,000 contract on him after he wrote a piece for the Village Voice. The magazine supplied him with a bulletproof vest and some getaway money, but the FBI told him he was on his own, because they couldn't jeopardize their "sources and methods."

Kwitny, Jonathan. Vicious Circles: The Mafia in the Marketplace. New York: W.W. Norton, 1979. 422 pages.

Jonathan Kwitny, who died of cancer in 1998 at the age of 57, became an excellent investigative journalist after joining the Wall Street Journal in 1971 (the good old days -- before transnational hegemony, monoculture, and prime-time spin). This book is an impressive example of the sort of thing that no longer gets published. It is name-intensive, well-researched, and deals with a topic that required a lot of adventurous legwork in the 1970s, before keyboards had search engines behind them. Equally remarkable, editors and publishers of that era had power and supported good journalism, while today they usually defer to their legal and marketing departments.

Kwitny describes a piece of American history that isn't found in textbooks. It's about Mafia influence in U.S. business: trucking, garbage, the meat industry, lunch-wagon businesses, pizzas, cheese processing, garment factories, banking and finance, and in unions such as teamsters, butchers, and longshoremen. It's also about cops who spend thirteen years building a case, whereupon judges let the mobsters off with light sentences. Most of the events described in this book are from the mid-1970s, and deal only with the American (mostly Italian immigrants) Mafia operating in America. During the next two decades, federal efforts against the American Mafia were successful, even as organized crime on a global scale expanded.

Moldea, Dan E. Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football. New York: William Morrow, 1989. 512 pages.

If football is the American religion, and the NFL its Vatican, then Dan Moldea is a heretic and excommunication is already in progress. Moldea is fighting back with a $10 million libel suit against the New York Times for its review of this book by sportswriter Gerald Eskenazi, an NFL mouthpiece.

Moldea chronicles the long-standing relationship between the NFL and organized crime, which has resulted in no fewer than 26 past and present NFL team owners with documented ties to either gambling or the syndicate, evidence of 70 fixed professional games, and the suppression of at least 50 law enforcement investigations of NFL corruption. This book also offers an introduction to the world of betting lines, oddsmakers and handicappers, bookmakers, and high-stakes gambling.

Moldea, Dan E. Dark Victory: Ronald Reagan, MCA, and the Mob. New York: Viking Press, 1986. 390 pages.

Three months on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list, this is the definitive history of Mafia influence in Hollywood, the hub of which is MCA. The Music Corporation of America began in 1924 as a fledgling band-booking company. It soon monopolized the business, and today is Hollywood's most powerful TV, film, and recording conglomerate.

Ronald Reagan was nurtured by MCA influence since his days as president of the Screen Actors Guild. In 1962 he told a grand jury that he couldn't remember why the Guild negotiated an exclusive arrangement with MCA that extended their monopoly. Years earlier, as confidential informant T-10, Reagan provided the FBI with information regarding Guild members whom he suspected were Communists. Reagan's glad-handing, "ah-shucks" style, apparently oblivious to the powerful forces manipulating him, has been evident since the 1940s.

Moldea, Dan E. The Hoffa Wars. New York: Charter Books, 1978. 450 pages.

In 1975, the Church Committee exposed the CIA's efforts to use the Mafia to assassinate Castro. Sam Giancana was murdered before he could testify in front of the Committee, and Jimmy Hoffa disappeared that year also. John Roselli testified, but then his dismembered body was found floating in an oil drum. By that time the House Select Committee on Assassinations wasn't too eager to look further. Fortunately there are some journalists still doing the work that Congress should have done long ago.

The Hoffa Wars is the best treatment available of Hoffa's career with the Teamsters and organized crime. Selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club and syndicated by the New York Times, it has been through numerous printings and translated into French, Italian, and Japanese. It was also the first book to take a closer look at Mafia involvement in the JFK assassination, at a time when most Warren Commission critics were just becoming aware of Jack Ruby's many links with Mafia figures.

Neff, James. Mobbed Up: Jackie Presser's High-Wire Life in the Teamsters, the Mafia, and the FBI. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989. 489 pages.

Jackie Presser (1926-1988) was the son of Teamster power broker Bill Presser, who was convicted of labor racketeering three times. Bill and Teamster president Frank Fitzsimmons enjoyed close relations with the Nixon White House through Nixon's aide Charles Colson. Bill wanted his son Jackie, something of an overweight blunderer, to follow in his footsteps as a mobbed-up Teamster heavy. Although it took more than dad's influence, Jackie made it by secretly informing on the Cleveland mob for the FBI. For their part, the FBI helped Jackie avoid car bombs, a popular Cleveland-mob art form, by giving him a little transmitter that could spray a car with radio waves and trip any detonators. Jackie was on his way: in October, 1975, he played golf with Nixon, Fitzsimmons, Anthony Provenzano, and Allen Dorfman and at the LaCosta Country Club.

Bill died two years before his son became president of the Teamsters in 1983. Jackie's close ties to the Reagan White House made FBI director William Webster nervous, but Presser's boosters in the FBI continued to protect him, and thwarted efforts by the Labor Department to prosecute him. Eventually the Justice Department closed in on the Teamsters by suing them under a new racketeering law, and court-appointed management took over until mob-free candidates could be elected to the executive board.

Reid, Ed and Demaris, Ovid. The Green Felt Jungle. Montreal: Pocket Books, 1964. 241 pages.

It wasn't until Senator Estes Kefauver held hearings in more than a dozen cities in the early 1950s that organized crime was given any visibility in postwar America. In 1943 the Mafia helped the OSS liberate Sicily from Mussolini, who had little tolerance for any competition. After the war the Mafia was as strong as ever, but not as conspicuous in the U.S. as they were in earlier decades. One center of Mafia activity in the U.S. was the Chicago- Hollywood-Vegas connection. After Bugsy Siegel was blown away in 1947, the mob began taking over Las Vegas in earnest, buying off the authorities as needed. Legalized gambling made for high profits (particularly when an unreported percentage was skimmed off the top), and casinos were excellent for laundering money.

The authors of this book are ex-newspapermen; Ed Reid worked for Hank Greenspun, publisher-editor of the Las Vegas Sun. In this bestseller they name all the names -- an appendix (pages 221-234) lists the 250 licensed owners of 15 major casinos. This book is out of date by now, particularly since Howard Hughes began buying out the Mafia's interest in Las Vegas several years after it was published. But it's a valuable reference for those who are still trying to uncover postwar American history.

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